To iPad or not to iPad?

iPad (from wikipedia.org)
iPad (from wikipedia.org)

I am going to a big conference next week, 2 full days out of the office. In times of yore, I would haul my trusty Macbook along and lugging it with me on both days as I move from pavilion to briefing hall, from lunch back to pavilion and from beer hall to bed.

A couple of months ago, I tried using an iPad for a different conference. I purchased an Apple Bluetooth (BT) keyboard and carried it with the iPad for most of the show.  With the BT keypad, power input was just as fast as on the laptop and even faster as I didn’t need to boot anything up.

The other nice thing about the BT keyboard with the iPad is you have fine cursor controls (arrow keys) which can be used to position input pointer.  I did find having to take my hand off the keyboard and touch the screen for some clicking action disconcerting and there were some iPad applications that didn’t handle the arrow keys appropriately but other than that, it worked great for power input, answering emails, and web searches.

The internal, soft iPad keyboard worked ok but wasn’t nearly as fast and didn’t support Dvorak.  Also the soft keyboard in portrait mode only provides 6 lines of pages text which makes power input with feedback more difficult.  In any case, I would use it to rip off quick emails, tweets, and other short stuff which worked well enough. I still took notes on paper (probably to old now to take notes on the iPad/laptop).  Having the keyboard available with a moments delay, made it easy to decide to take it out to use it when I had the time or leave it in the backpack when I didn’t.

Another positive note was that the iPad took up very little desk space.  Most briefing halls nowadays have these smallish retractable desk tops that can barely hold a legal pad let alone a laptop.  The iPad fit these postage stamp desktops just fine.

Not sure how to quantify the weight advantage of the iPad+BT Keyboard vs. Macbook without weighing them but it is significant.  Given all the junk I carry along with the laptop vs. the iPad+BT keyboard, the iPad/BT keyboard wins hands down.  It’s almost like I am not carrying a computer at all.

Problems with using the iPad

There are a couple of web applications (e.g., Wordress visual editor) that seem dependent on flash to work properly, which made using the iPad to create blog posts problematic.  Also, scrolling in WordPress post editor seems to be a flash application as well which made dealing with any long post edits problematic at best.  Wordpress has an iPhone/iPad application which is just as good as the non-visual editor in web-based WordPress which comes in handy at these times.

Now in all honesty, I haven’t tried these in a while and these may not be flash issues as much as iPad issues. Nonetheless, I will guarantee that you will run into some websites that you use in your daily activities that use flash and won’t work.  With the iPad you just will need to forego these websites and find alternatives.

In the office I am a heavy TweetDeck user.  For some reason this application doesn’t work that well for the iPad. I have the latest version and all but find using Twitterific or the official Twitter App a better solution on the iPad.

I purchased the WiFi version of the iPad and iPad’s do not come with Ethernet plug-ins.   Now most conference centers these days have WiFi, but it may not always work that well.  Also some hotels only have WiFi in certain locations and not in the hotel rooms.  All this makes having internet access somewhat sporadic. But you can always buy the 3G version if you want to and I always have my iphone for internet access in a pinch (assuming ATT has adequate conference center/hotel coverage).

I was told that the iPad power converter and connection would also charge up my 3G iPhone but this turned out not to work.  Luckily, I brought along the power converter for the 3G iPhone by mistake and the cable connection between the power converter and iPad worked just fine for the iPhone.  Also the cable from the power adaptor to iPad is somewhat short, so bring the extension cord in order to be able to work with the iPad while its charging.

I ended up purchasing the Apple case for the iPad. I wanted to be able to have it upright portrait or landscape while I was typing on the keyboard, have it slant upward while using the soft keypad and otherwise lie flat. The Apple iPad case does all this without problem.

Microsoft Office documents

Word documents get converted into Pages documents pretty easily but you lose all change tracking, some of the formatting, and other esoteric stuff.  It’s probably ok for internal documents but I find putting together a final document using Pages still a problem. But  I must say I am a novice here.  Also converting Pages documents back into Word seems easy enough.

I have spent even less time with Numbers and Keynote but they seem adequate for minor stuffconvert .XLS and .PPT files to Numbers and Keynote files (but not back to .XLS and .PPT) and if I used them more probably ok for much more sophisticated work.  There are other applications that seem to provide better iPhone support for Microsoft Office editing but I have yet to try them on either the iPad or iPhone.  Also, beware that converting Numbers documents to Excel and Keynote to PowerPoint require Mac desktop versions of these programs.

Document availability is somewhat problematic.  I met one person who emailed work documents to themselves to solve this problem.  Email works ok as long as they don’t scroll out of iPad (iPad keeps the latest 200 emails max for any account which includes spam).  For this purpose, I used a not-so-well-known email address and emailed my current work documents to that account.  iTunes supports a way to copy files to and from the Mac or iPad which seems painless enough but the email interface worked just as well for me and I didn’t have to synch up to have the files transferred.

Beware of changing headers and footers in Pages and trying to alter them in Word once you get it back to the office.  It never worked for me.  I had to copy the text of the document to another fresh Word file and work the header/footers in that.

iPad security

Mac based passwords, logins, and security characteristics are a bit difficult and time-consumming to transfer to the iPad.  You can manually load them in for any websites and applications you need but there is no way to transfer a whole keychain from Mac to iPad.  As such, if you neglect to transfer security credentials for an important website to iPad your out of luck.  Now there are some apps that profess to being able to transfer and maintain keychains on the iPhone or the iPad but I haven’t tried them yet.

Other iPad security aspects are even more problematic.  The iPad can be setup to require entry of a 4 numeric character string to access it.  Another setting will erase the contents of the iPad after 10 failed logins attempts. And MobileMe probably supports some way to erase an iPad that’s out of your hands (it does this for iPhones so I would think the same service would be available for the iPad but I haven’t looked into it).

But despite all that, I don’t feel the iPad is as secure as the Macbook. For one thing, I encrypt the data on the Macbook and the system password can be alphanumeric and considerably longer than 4 characters.  In any case the harddrive can be removed from the Macbook but without the passkey, the data on the drive would be useless.  In contrast the SSD-Flash memory on the iPad could be pulled out and analyzed without any trouble whatsoever and with proper understanding of IOS storage formatting be read in the clear.

Also the fact that its smaller and lighter it could easily be forgotten and left behind making it more lose-able.  And it’s certainly more prone to being stolen because it’s smaller and lighter.

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At this point I will probably  use the iPad for the upcoming VMworld conference just to see if it works as well the 2nd time as it did the first.  It’s only two full days, what can go wrong?